Tips for Managing Fibromyalgia

Overview of the disorder 

Fibromyalgia is a musculoskeletal chronic disorder that causes pain and tenderness throughout the body. In addition to pain, fibromyalgia can cause fatigue, sleep, memory, and mood issues. It is believed that fibromyalgia occurs due to the different ways the brain and spinal cord process both painful and non-painful stimuli. Fibromyalgia symptoms typically occur after a traumatic event – such as physical trauma, surgery, infection, or stress. Here are a few tips for managing fibromyalgia.

Women are two times more likely than men to suffer from fibromyalgia. One of the reasons it is believed to affect women more is due to more hormonal changes, and higher stress. It affects people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds and can be more prevalent in those who have rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, ankylosing spondylitis, osteoarthritis, depression or anxiety, tension headaches, chronic back pain, temporomandibular joint dysfunction, and irritable bowel syndrome.

Fibromyalgia is diagnosed by a complaint of widespread pain throughout the body for at least three months. Pain needs to be present in four of five specific areas, and blood tests are typically done to rule out other diseases.

Lifestyle changes

Smoking, caffeine, and alcohol use can all play a role in fibromyalgia symptoms. According to a study by NIH, smokers with fibromyalgia had increased severity of Fibromyalgia symptoms, worse quality of life, more sleep problems, and increased anxiety.

A link has been found between caffeine consumption and the severity of fibromyalgia pain. Decreasing the amount of caffeine intake can help keep pain levels manageable. Alcohol generally worsens fibromyalgia symptoms, including tiredness and nausea.

Self-care (stress management, sleep hygiene, low-impact exercise, etc.)

Self-care is extremely important when it comes to the management of Fibromyalgia. If you do not provide yourself with good self-care when it comes to stress management, sleep hygiene, and exercise, flares may become more regular.

Stress management is important in avoiding overexertion and emotional stress. Learning techniques such as deep breathing or meditation can help to reduce stress levels. 

Sleep is also important in self-care. Without proper amounts of sleep, the body has a more difficult time regulating itself. Establish sleep routines, waking up and going to bed at the same time to help your body get as much sleep as possible, allowing you to wake up not feeling tired.

Regular, low-impact exercise is important in self-care with Fibromyalgia. Walking, tai chi, biking, swimming, and water aerobics are all good low-impact activities. When started slowly, and done regularly, low-impact exercise can decrease Fibromyalgia symptoms. In addition to these cardiovascular activities, stretching, postural exercises, and relaxation training techniques can positively impact symptoms. 

In addition, alternative treatments, such as yoga, massage, and acupuncture can be used to help reduce fibromyalgia symptoms. 

Medication (Rx and OTC) 

The treatment of fibromyalgia includes both prescription and over-the-counter medications. Medication use can help to reduce pain and improve sleep. Common medications include over-the-counter pain relievers ( Advil, Motrin, Aleve), prescription antidepressants (Cymbalta, Savella), and prescription anti-seizure (Gabapentin, Lyrica).

Bath soaks

Heat, especially moist heat, helps decrease pain and tenderness from fibromyalgia. Moist heat, from a hot pack, shower, or bath can increase blood circulation to the area that is sore or stiff.

Pace yourself / do things in bursts

Pacing yourself to evenly spread out your energy from day to day is important. Overdoing it on days you feel good can sometimes lead to worse days to follow. Something helpful to those with fibromyalgia is creating a weekly calendar. You can plan out the week to make sure you pace yourself, making sure work, hobbies, exercise, and family time can be spread as evenly as possible. 

How physical therapy can help 

Working with a Physical therapist can help you to establish the right exercises and workout program needs for your body. PTs can adapt exercises to reduce strain and stress placed through especially painful or sore areas of the body. Strength, endurance, flexibility, and balance exercises can provide a full-body home workout that keeps the body moving without over-taxing it.

While fibromyalgia can feel overwhelming at times, lifestyle changes, self-care techniques, activity modification, and physical therapy can help to manage the symptoms of fibromyalgia. 

Schedule your appointment with a PT today to begin your journey to living again and enjoying more freedom with Fibromyalgia.


Physical Therapist at Freedom Physical Therapy Services
Molly Rittberg received her master’s degree in Physical Therapy in 2007 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and went on to receive her doctorate from Rosalind Franklin University (North Chicago) in 2009. She has since worked in an outpatient orthopedic practice where she worked with patients of all ages, injuries and disabilities. She has a wide variety of experiences including knee, ankle, foot and shoulder injuries, post-operative conditions, spinal rehabilitation and peripheral neuropathies.